Saturday, March 26, 2016

Love taking root...

On my sixteenth birthday I came home from high school to find a bouquet of long stemmed blue iris’s, a gift from parents. My birthday falls in February, one of the bleakest months of the year, when fresh flowers are an especially delightful reminder of the warmer weather to come.

During the long season of Lent the church was void of fresh flowers. Instead we had dried sunflowers in muted browns and tan colors, and bare branches, rocks and ashes, stark symbols of winter and the spiritual journey of a season intentionally focused on our broken human nature, of the need for forgiving others and being forgiven ourselves. 

Now the space is once again filled with flowers, in such an abundance that I have to use Flonase just to be in this room. Potted tulips, hydrangeas, hyacinths, daffodils, and lilies. They fill the altar space and the transept, overflowing from altar to step, down to the font. It is a heady sight. One church I served use to plant the bulbs left over from these flowers. We’d have a party at the end of the Easter season and as a community we’d plant them around the property. Then the following spring the flowers would bloom, usually right in time for Easter! After years of doing this we ended up with gorgeous spring flower beds around the church.

This practice of planting Easter flowers holds more than a practical side of building a spring garden. It is theologically symbolic of faith taking root deep inside of us, like the bulbs growing roots into the earth,  then, of shoots springing forth and flowers blooming into a resurrection garden – a metaphor for our faith.

This morning we find Mary in the garden. She has come looking for the tomb of Jesus, but finds it empty. She speaks to someone, an angel perhaps, and flees with a mission to accomplish. She is halted on her way by someone she mistakes for the gardener. He calls out for her, “Mary!” and, it takes her a moment to recognize that this is not a gardener but Jesus himself, in the flesh. 

What is important to gleam from this story is that God’s love is made real in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection reminds us of a couple of things: God is bigger than our small knowledge of God, God reveals Gods self in unexpected ways, and God is always about love and restoring new life to the broken places in the world. 

The gospel stories unpack for us the various responses one can have to the living presence of God in our lives. The women respond by running off and telling the disciples, the disciples run and see for themselves that the tomb is empty, and the guards have another response, they attempt to subvert the resurrection by saying someone has stolen the body. 

I have witnessed new life and life restored to wholeness and hope replace despair often enough that I believe in the resurrection, in God’s ability to bring forth new life when we least expect it and in ways we cannot anticipate. 

God’s love prevails, year after year, rising up in communities all around the world. God’s love prevails over the violence in this world. Terrorism will not win. Death will not win. Into each horrible act of violence, perpetrated by selfish and cruel humans, God acts through the kindness and compassion of other human beings, who pick up the pieces, help those who have been wounded, and work to restore hope. God acts through us, we are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, the means through which God’s love is poured out into the world. We reveal God’s love every time we treat another person with kindness, respect the dignity of others, and respond to life’s circumstances with compassion.

Like tulips, daffodils or lily’s we bring our own special essence to this garden of life, or own special way of loving God, and loving others as God loves us. Like Mary we too are called and sent to bring the good news: “Its Easter and God’s love is alive!”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A foot is a enough...

One sunny afternoon in 1987 I found myself having lunch with my boss, who was the owner of an interior design firm, and his clients, Maria Tall Chief Paschen and her husband Buddy. A dance major in college, I was thrilled, and a little intimidated to have lunch with this prima ballerina. I don’t remember much from that lunch, and I’m sure I said very little. However the topic of dance must have come up because I recall her comparing modern dance and ballet saying, in what I perceived as a condescending tone, that ballet was a much more sophisticated form of dance than those moderns “danced in their bare feet”. If Maria were still alive she’d probably be aghast that many modern ballerina’s now perform in the traditional ballet pointe shoes as well as in bare feet. 

I have always loved being barefoot. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in the west, where everything is more informal? I recall spending all day outside, usually barefoot, climbing trees and running through fields and grass until my feet were scrapped up and dirty. Evening foot baths were a requirement before getting into bed. 

So when I hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends I understand the need for clean feet after a day of walking in dirt and dust, and the luxury of soothing hands pouring warm water and massaging feet with soap, rinsing, and then drying them with a towel. 

Reflexologists believe that every organ of the body has a corresponding pressure point in the feet. Applying pressure to the points relieves ailments in that region of the body. They might say that the whole body is in feet.

When Jesus responds to Peter’s exuberant cry, “not just my feet, but all of me!” I wonder if Jesus had the same idea about feet - that the whole body could be accessed through the feet. It wasn’t necessary to wash all of Peter, his feet would be enough.  

We might think of feet as dirty, or gross, or ugly. Having someone wash one’s feet may make one feel vulnerable and self-conscious. Feet can be ticklish. And some people never want to bare their feet in public, for what-ever reason. It’s just plain awkward to participate in the foot washing portion of Maundy Thursday. If I weren’t the priest and leading the service, I’m not sure I’d expose my feet and let someone else wash them. And yet, what we do here tonight, washing feet and sharing bread and wine seems to indicate that  for Jesus there is a connection, a mystical relationship between foot washing, baptism, Holy Communion and the body of Christ. This mystical relationship is lost on us if we over think it. It is a sensory relationship, felt, experienced inside, a spiritual connection between us here today and Jesus and his friends on that night long ago. 

Participating in the body of Christ is rarely clean, neat, or easy. It’s often messy, and risky, and requires some willingness to be vulnerable, to step out of our comfort zone in order to respect the dignity of others, and extend kindnesses that exceed our usual inclinations. Being the body of Christ means having the stamina to stay in relationship with those who challenge us. It means recognizing that the violence of the world, the bombings and the killing of innocent people, is not what God is asking of the faithful. Acts of violence are human actions built on fear and greed and selfishness. Being the body of Christ is about being connected, all of us, like feet to heart to hands, with friends and strangers alike. Peter’s late to the party but exuberant, “Take all of me!” reminds us that if we show up often enough and are willing, then participating in the body of Christ pries open our hearts to the reality of God’s grace.  All Jesus needs, to share this grace, is a foot, a little bit of us, and a willingness to be vulnerable.

a reflection for Maundy Thursday....

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Reckless Grace

In a small town where life has been the same for 100 years, a war is about to break out between the tranquility of tradition and the fear of change. A power struggle ensues between acts of compassion and hospitality and a fierce adherence to protocol.  The shock of something  new, the excitement of letting go of what have become meaningless “rules for life”, the dangers of denying people joy and the consequences of intolerance are aroused by a chocolatier’s delectable sweets in the movie CHOCOLAT. At the heart of the story in CHOCOLAT is a gypsy-like woman named Vianne born with special powers. Vianne arrives as a mysterious outsider to the French village of Lansquenet where she opens a chocolate shop offering candy and beverages that can cure lost hopes and awaken long deprived emotions.

Vianne's effect, and the impact of her chocolate, is immediate and extraordinary: the elderly find themselves recalling young love, troubled couples regain their spark, sniping neighbors become happy friends, and one woman, initially portrayed as a disheveled, incoherent thief who is ignored by the towns people leaves her abusive husband and finds her voice and a sense of purpose in life. But Vianne's chocolate arouses something else: an escalating battle between compassion and moral indignation. 

Some in the town began to let go of their limited view of themselves and other people. Others in the town become further entrenched in the tradition, led by the righteous Comte de Reynaud, who declares Vianne public enemy number one. Just as Vianne is about to give up and leave town an unexpected romance with a handsome stranger forces her to choose between leaving her hostile surroundings or making a true difference to the townsfolk of Lansquenet. Vianne’s chocolate is a metaphor for God’s extravagant, reckless grace. Indulging in pleasures like her chocolate becomes a metaphor for grace, compassion, and joy - the gifts of life. As the townspeople awaken to her chocolate they awaken to themselves and begin see one another with greater love, kindness, and acceptance - no one is perfect.

Our children in the Prayer Room are spending the season of Lent considering the environmental and economic impact of chocolate growth, production and consumption. In a curriculum called, No Chocolate Know Chocolate, the children are forming a parallel understanding between growing chocolate in the rainforest and growing as Christians in church. It’s a fun curriculum, challenging us to see chocolate in Lent in a new, expansive, insightful way.

Much like the townspeople in the movie Chocolat and their complaints against Vianne, our Gospel reading from Luke this morning begins with a complaint made by the Pharisees regarding Jesus’ behavior. Jesus responds with a parable about God’s extravagant, almost reckless love for God’s people. 

As the story unfolds, it is clear that the parable conveys the idea of a loving God, portrayed by the father’s abundant unconditional love for his children. Each character in the story reveals something about human nature and the God who created us and loves us. The father’s relief that the son is home despite his reckless behavior wasting away his inheritance. The father hope that the older brother will be part of the celebration, despite his jealousy and wounded pride. Both these sons, so very human, and yet deeply loved. And the people behind the scenes, the wives and mothers and daughters, and the servants who pull off a lavish, extravagant, feast on short notice. God’s grace is present in each of these, a sign for us of how and when God may manifest in our lives too, overturning expectations with surprise and hope.

Grace lies at the heart of this parable. Grace is the word that describes how God’s love is experienced in our lives. This parable asks us to consider the extravagant, reckless, even wasteful grace of God’s love in our lives.

We’ve done some “extravagant acts of love” in this parish. Take for example The Liberia School Project, the Pew project remodeling the space for handicap accessibility, the generous way we share the building, the new exterior plaza, community garden and in general the very public access of this property. How we share these is extravagant, risky, sometimes wasteful, and comes at a price - we need staff and resources to support them. 

These reveal much about who we are, a community-centered church, with lights on and doors open, about a presence and a grace, and a generosity that is, in many ways, unexpected in the world today. These reveal much about who we are and how we allowing the blessings of God’s grace in our lives, in this place, to pour out with abundance, into the world around us. Is there more we can do? No doubt? Will we do more, as we are able? Certainly. So long as we remain open to the spirit as she runs into our lives and so long as we are willing to be part of the God’s prodigal family.

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